When Robert Hodge decided to go back to school, he had an advantage as a Boilermaker: He got to use the Union Plus Free College Benefit, available to all Boilermaker members and their families. Two and a half years of hard work and dedication paid off in June when Hodge graduated summa cum laude with his associate degree in business management with a concentration in labor studies.
Hodge’s motivation for going back to school was not solely for his own benefit, but also for his lodge, Local 104 (Seattle). The local recently came out of trusteeship, and Hodge is board chairman. It was important to him to work to move the local forward successfully.
“Every month you go over every receipt and transaction to make sure everything is done correctly,” Hodge says. “I wanted to improve my skills and learn more about representation and law. School helped me to understand how the union is structured and the legal framework around how it operates. It’s good to know what requirements we have to operate under, especially with finances.”
Managing his education wasn’t always stress-free, but Hodge prevailed in his studies and finished with a high GPA in the process. A nine-year Boilermaker, he worked his full-time job at Lake Union Dry Dock and balanced his family life, volunteer work and hobbies while enrolled as an online student at Eastern Gateway Community College.
“It’s tricky because the shipyards are busy around Thanksgiving and go to about May or June. Right when college classes were getting busy, shipyards were getting busy,” he says. “It became about time management more than anything else; balancing family and sailboat racing, volunteer work and being chairman of the board.”
Some of his favorite classes opened his eyes to the significance of learning union history and understanding contract interpretation.
“Contract interpretation and the history of labor were very enlightening,” he says. “It was interesting to see all the tactics laid out in the contract relations class.”
Within his own local, Hodge began identifying the variances between labor contracts, recognizing the use of what is now considered older contractual language and detecting the different strategies used by companies and unions during negotiations.
In an unexpected twist to Hodge’s academic story, he not only earned one associate degree, but a second as well. Local 104’s apprenticeship program is associated with the South Seattle Community College. The college gives apprentices the option to take a few extra general education courses, in conjunction with completing their apprenticeship, to earn an associate degree in multi-occupational trades. While completing his degree at Eastern Gateway Community College, Hodge realized that while he’d graduated his apprenticeship years earlier, he had also fulfilled the requirements to earn the second degree.
While Hodge’s academic journey through Union Plus is complete, he is already contemplating his next academic move, with an interest in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in labor relations or possibly marine chemistry.
Thinking about going back to school? Find more information about the Union Plus Free College Benefit for union members and their families: https://www.unionplus.org/benefits/education/free-college